IT was one of these days when everything had to be put on hold. Snow, beautiful snow everywhere and the further west we travelled the more there was of it.
After the false winter starts of the previous couple of weeks, here was the real deal: sun splitting the sky, hardly a breath of wind and the white stuff right down to the roadside.
We were heading to Dalmally on the Oban road to climb Beinn a’Chochuill and Beinn Eunaich. These two Munros are often derided as dreary hangers-on to the magnificent Ben Cruachan. That’s a bit unfair. After all, there aren’t many hills that can rival Cruachan and its horseshoe ridge of satellite peaks.
It had been nine years since my last visit to these summits. I had set off walking in darkness at 6am on an icy December morning but quickly rose above the low-lying cloud to be greeted by the rising sun and clear skies shining with every colour and shade.
Once you’ve had a view like that, the rest of the day becomes almost irrelevant. But the pull-up to Beinn a’Chochuill’s summit was accompanied by a low, warm sun and perfect visibility and the rest of the walk continued in this vein round to Beinn Eunaich and then down the long south ridge back to the incoming track and the car.
The overhead conditions were almost the same this time, but the track upwards was covered by snow and ice and the slopes ahead seemed to be painted a brilliant Dulux white.
A dozen or so Highland cattle were straddled across the track doing their tourist pose in front of the snow-capped peaks, their chilled-out attitude summing up the mood of the day perfectly.
Our initial push up steeper slopes was made easier by a party some way ahead which had already broken trail. By the time we were approaching the final ridge, the snow was consistently up to our knees.
The summit area had an Alpine feel, a dozen or so folk having a short lunch break while taking in the stunning 360 degree views of a white Scotland as far as the eye could see. Despite the sunshine, the chill wind soon caught up and it was time to move on.
Then came the real hard work. The descent from the first summit to the bealach between the peaks took us through snow that was reaching midway up our thighs. Sometimes it was impossible to gauge the depth and a sudden drop into snow up to the waist meant a series of acrobatics to roll out and regain your feet and dignity.
The ascent of Beinn Eunaich started with more deep, soft snow but gradually it turned icier and more solid and we had to kick steps at times to get footholds. The wind had also picked up as it was channelled through the gap between the hills. We were also being pelted with spindrift coming horizontally from our right as it blew across the slopes, but it was calmer by the time we hit the summit.
We expected an easier route down, but, if anything, the snow was even deeper in places and there were a few tumbles on the way. It was trial and error with lots of slipping and sliding as we dropped down the steep, lower slopes to pick up the track.
All around were signs that much of the early morning snow was melting. Let’s hope it doesn’t stay away too long.
(First published Daily Record, November 21, 2013)